As Facebook turns 10, it makes sense that the company is attempting to reinvent the way its millions of users get their news. But Facebook isn't messing with your existing news feed. Instead, they've introduced the standalone Paper app. In a style reminiscent of Flipboard, Paper makes catching up on your friends' updates and all the latest headlines beautifully easy to read. You can check out what's in the news without first having to subscribe to the various sources, and with unsurprisingly seamless Facebook integration, you'll never want to leave the app. Could Paper paper over other news apps? We think yes.
Installation and Setup
It took just one minute to download and install the free 54MB app over Wi-Fi to our iPhone (there's no iPad-specific version). Once we started the app, we were taken directly to a page to create our Paper. You'll need a Facebook account, but if you already have the Facebook app on your iPhone, Paper will automatically sign in with your credentials.
The first page of Paper was a feed of all our Facebook friends' activity, since we were already logged into the social network via the original app.
MORE: 25 Best iOS 7 Apps
Paper lets you choose from a carousel of about 20 topics. While some of the category names are straightforward (Tech, Headlines), Facebook tries to be clever with others -- with mixed success. Creators is described as "visual delights and inspiration from designers and artists around the world"; Ideas is "a daily, in-depth look at one standout idea, event or personality," and Equalize is "News for women and men creating a level playing field." While intriguing, it's not as clearly delineated as Flipboard's topic pages.
Adding a topic to our paper was as simple as swiping it from the carousel at the bottom to the top section. We swiped up to add Tech and Pride to our selection, then tapped done to move on.
Like Flipboard, Paper eschews navigation buttons such as Back or Home in favor of gestures. Swipe left or right to move between topics, down to go back, and up to create or read a post. It takes some practice, but once you're familiar with these actions, you'll appreciate the app's simplicity.
Instead of a grid-like layout of your articles as in Flipboard, Paper divides its space into two sections. The top half is a spotlight of featured articles and topics, while the bottom half shows you all the stories in that topic.
MORE: 25 Best iPad Apps
Each tile at the bottom shows the publication's logo and name, story headline, preview and an accompanying image. Scroll through the tiles to browse headlines, and swipe up on one to see more in a full screen. In this preview mode, you can like, comment on or share the post and see other people's likes and comments. If you want to read the full story, swipe up on its thumbnail in this preview mode to open it.
Swipe left or right on the top half to go to previous or next topics in your Paper, and tap a featured story on this top deck to view it. Swiping down from the top of the home screen reveals a full-screen menu where you can view your own Timeline, create a post, edit sections and access settings. A three-line button on the top right of this screen lets you view content in your Facebook groups.
As this is a Facebook-centric app, your feed is front and center, so you don't have to look too far to see what your friends are doing. You can also look at your own timeline by swiping down from the top and tapping your name. The top half of your timeline is your cover photo, while the bottom half is filled with tiles of things you've shared. The first tile has your About information; the next has all your photos, and the third contains all your friends. While you can view your profile information here, you can't change it.
If you swipe left or right on your cover photo, you can go back in time to see your posts from previous months and years. We really appreciated how easy it was to pull up holiday pictures from ages ago, which would have taken forever on the regular Facebook app or even the Web client on a desktop. You can also look at your friend requests, messages and notifications from your timeline.
Your friends' profiles are displayed in the same layout, and you can message them by tapping Message on their cover photos. While you can't post directly to their walls from this view, you can share stories on their timelines via the sharing options on each article.
Tap the three-line button at the top right, and you're presented with a list of all your Facebook groups. We were amused by the number of groups we had forgotten we had joined.
However, Paper doesn't fully support Events pages, so if you need to look up the address of a party you've been invited to, you'll have to use the original Facebook app. Also, if you receive an event invite, your only option initially is to join. Once you've joined, you can tap on the event to change your RSVP to Maybe or Not Going.
Sharing is a cinch with Paper. From your news feed, swipe up to create a post. You can share pictures (from your camera roll, or snap one via the app), or tag friends or a location. We like that words we typed started out in a large size, and automatically shrunk to accommodate longer posts.
All the usual suspects in each category are represented. In the Tech section, we saw posts from The Verge, Gizmodo, Engadget and Mashable, while Headlines was populated by stories from The New York Times, Bloomberg, BBC World News and Reuters. Each tile represents a post shared by the publication on its Facebook page, complete with caption, photo, likes and comments.
Unfortunately, you can't customize these categories at all. For example, you can't follow a particular sport, and you can't add your own sources. In this respect, Flipboard offers much more granular control over subject matter.
In another difference from Flipboard, you can't add feeds from other social networks. But while it's not surprising that Facebook wants to limit the intrusion of Twitter, Tumblr and Google+, we wonder why there's no integration with Instagram.
Paper is a very good app, and not just for those who compulsively share stories on Facebook. Its interface is intuitive and elegant, making it easy to browse the latest headlines and your friends' updates in a single app. Some Facebook features, such as posting to a wall or viewing event details, are missing, but Paper works well.
However, other apps, such as Flipboard, offer far greater control over the content you're reading or sources you're following, and let you add other social networks such as Twitter and Tumblr. But as a Facebook-centric news-reader app, Paper is a real page-turner.